Activists Call for Delay to UN Climate Summit, Blaming UK for Vaccine Delays

COP26, already delayed a year by the pandemic, is scheduled for early November in Glasgow. The activists say delegates from developing countries can’t get vaccinated.

Climate activists gather on a "Global Day of Action" organized by the 'Fridays for Future' climate change movement during the coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 25, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Omer Messinger/Getty Images
Climate activists gather on a "Global Day of Action" organized by the 'Fridays for Future' climate change movement during the coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 25, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Omer Messinger/Getty Images

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More than 1,500 civil society groups joined a growing chorus demanding the postponement of the U.N. climate change conference on the basis that the U.K. government has been too slow in providing vaccines to delegates.

The Conference of the Parties, or COP26, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in early November, has already been delayed a year by the pandemic.

Greenpeace added its weight to the wide array of climate change action groups on Tuesday calling for the summit to be pushed back, arguing it would otherwise risk excluding attendees from developing countries. More than 195 countries were expected to send delegates to the event.

Tasneem Essop, head of the Climate Action Network, said many countries affected by climate change would be “left out of the talks” at COP26 if it proceeded on the present schedule.


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Delegates from developing countries might be unable to attend because of a lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines and the expense of complying with hotel quarantine rules, she said.

“Looking at the current timeline for COP26, it is difficult to imagine there can be fair participation from the Global South under safe conditions—and it should therefore be postponed until such time it can be,” said Essop.

“The climate talks are important but against the current context of vaccine apartheid they simply cannot proceed,” she added.

In response, the U.K. organizing team said it was still working hard to help all delegates attend the November meeting and would pay for the hotel quarantines, but did not explicitly rule out another delay.

“COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and we are all too aware climate change has not taken time off,” said Alok Sharma, COP26 president. “The recent IPCC report underlines why COP26 must go ahead this November to allow world leaders to come together and set out decisive commitments to tackle climate change.”

Sharma has said in the past that holding the event in person is critical to its success because it enables negotiators to hammer out agreements more effectively.

The U.K. has pledged to provide vaccines to delegates who are not otherwise able to get vaccinated. It says the first doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered this week followed by a second in four weeks, allowing for full inoculation after six weeks. The conference is due to start in about seven weeks.

The aim of COP26 is to assemble almost every country in the world to iron out parameters for the Paris climate accord, a 2015 pact that seeks to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

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COP gatherings have previously drawn more than 20,000 delegates, including government representatives, journalists and civil society groups.

Preparations for the Glasgow summit have been hampered not only by the uncertainties of Covid but also by the limited availability of accommodation and security personnel.

Compared with other COPs, the 2021 event is far behind in providing logistical support to visiting government delegations, said one diplomat from a developing country involved with the preparations.

Dozens of heads of state, including President Joe Biden, are expected to attend, providing a huge security challenge for the city.

The U.N. climate talks, held annually in pre-pandemic times, have experienced last-minute changes before: in 2019 the venue was switched from Santiago to Madrid at the last minute because of political protests in Chile.

Not everyone agreed that a delay was best, however. The Climate Vulnerable Forum, representing more than 40 countries, said COP26 should proceed because the issue of climate change “cannot wait.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

Used with permission.